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This article is taken from PN Review 10, Volume 6 Number 2, November - December 1979.

Blue Precisely Expressed (William Gass) C. Cantalupo

William Gass, On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry (Carcanet) $8.95

IN AN essay called "A Memory of a Master",* William Gass evokes three evenings he spent with Wittgenstein. Gass thinks

we are . . . constrained to see that, in Wittgenstein, the world we cannot speak of can be very precisely expressed. Where we cannot speak, the philosopher has famously remarked, we must remain silent; but does it follow from this that we must not show what can only be shown by speech of Wittgenstein's kind?


It is significant that, unlike most of Wittgenstein's students, Gass feels liberated and not constrained by Wittgenstein's theories about what language can and cannot do. He seems to remember one of the Master's more elegiac examples.

"Something red can be destroyed, but red cannot be destroyed, and that is why the meaning of the word 'red' is independent of the existence of a red thing." -Certainly it makes no sense to say that the color red is torn up or pounded to bits. But don't we say "The red is vanishing"? And don't clutch at the idea of our always being able to bring red before our mind's eye even when there is nothing red any more. That is just as if you chose to say that there would still always be a chemical reaction producing a red flame. -For suppose you cannot remember the color any more?-When we forget which ...


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